Snow Geese in Utah

snow geese
Snow Geese take flight.

We are lucky in Utah to have nearby one of the largest annual migration visits of Snow Geese in the United States. From Mid-February to Mid-March an estimated 20,000 Snow Geese stop for rest and nourishment at the Gunnison Bend Reservoir west of Delta, Utah. This species of goose, native to North America, is all white except for black wing tips and underwings that are barely visible on the ground. An occasional variant is seen with gray/blue plumage. The birds leave the lake early in the morning to feed in the local farm fields and return to the lake mid-morning; flying off again late afternoon to feed in the fields before returning to the lake again. The snow geese are on their 3,000-mile migration back to the Canadian Arctic after wintering in southern California and Mexico.

My wife and I discovered this amazing natural event last year when we saw an ad for the “Delta Snow Goose Festival.” The 2018 Snow Goose Festival is scheduled for February 23 and 24. Last year we chose to go out on a non-festival day to avoid the crowds because we thought that would be better for my photographic interest. We had a little difficulty in finding the Gunnison Bend Reservoir and I finally conceded to my wife and asked directions. When we arrived at the lake the half dozen people we saw were anxiously awaiting the return of the snow geese from their morning feeding. Soon we began to hear the honking sound of inbound geese. Then we saw what looked like a faint cloud moving toward us. Eventually, we saw individual birds, hundreds of them. They circled the lake several times before the flock landed as a large cluster of birds. Then it was quiet again. The birds kept themselves close together on the water a white island on the lake.  What an incredible sight.

Then someone told us that further around the lake was an even larger cluster of snow geese. What we found was a cluster of birds that must have numbered in the thousands. I had to put a wide angle lens on the camera to show the expanse of birds tightly spread across the surface of the water. From a distance, the birds appeared to be bobbing quietly in a restful state.

We moved to another portion of the lake where we spotted a smaller cluster of birds, maybe 200 to 300, that were fairly close to the shoreline with the sun to our back. With binoculars and a telephoto lens on the camera, we could easily see individual birds and their behavior. There was quite a variety in size and maturity of the birds. I have read that the average Snow Goose weighs about 6 pounds. Most of them were not in a state of rest and in fact were moving around within their group quite a bit. As we watched the wind drifted the group of birds close to the shoreline to our left and the whole group turned into the wind to paddle back to our right. Occasionally one or two of the larger birds would rise up out of the water with outstretched wings. This is a pretty impressive sight with the black underside of the wing showing and a typical wingspan of about three feet.

After several hours of watching this group of snow geese something spooked them and in a matter of seconds several hundred very vocal birds took to the air. A quick splash with their feet and wings flapping this mass of geese took off a few hundred yards in front of us. What an incredible wildlife experience. A sight and sound we will remember forever.